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Meetings, while disliked by many, are an essential part of myriad business operations. They are often the best venue for communications to take place, for issues to be discussed, for priorities to be set, and for decisions to be made in various realms of business management. Because it is more common for responsibility to be spread out across an organization these days, and because cross-functional efforts are common at almost every business, meetings are the best method for achieving organizational participation.

Holding successful meetings, then, is essential. Poorly run meetings waste time and fail to generate ideas, and unfortunately, far too high a percentage of business meetings are characterized by the ineffective process. Indeed, some analysts estimate that up to 50 percent of meeting time is wasted. Entrepreneurs and business managers should thus take the appropriate steps to ensure that the meetings that they call and lead are productive.

Planning a Business Meeting

The most important step in holding a successful business meeting is planning. This includes determining who should attend, who will run the meeting, and what will be discussed. Before the meeting, finalize a list of attendees. This is especially important for meetings where a quorum is needed to conduct official business. Without a quorum, it is usually best to simply postpone the meeting until more group members can attend.

When determining who to include in a meeting, several criteria should be weighed. The most important personnel to invite are those people who can best achieve the objective of the meeting. These can be people who are affected by a problem, those who will be the most affected by the outcome of the meeting, experts on the subject at hand, or people who are known to be problem solvers or idea generators.

Inviting people solely for political reasons should be avoided, although experts recognize that this may not always be possible. Avoid disruptive people unless they absolutely have to be there. Finally, some meeting topics may benefit from the inclusion of an informed outsider who has no stake in the issue; sometimes a fresh, objective perspective can be most beneficial.

Once the meeting’s moderator has determined who needs to be in attendance, he or she should develop an agenda and circulate it in advance of the meeting. There are two schools of thought on how to order the agenda. One school recommends starting the agenda with less important items that can be handled quickly and easily. The theory is that this helps to build a positive atmosphere and makes it easier to move on to tougher issues later in the meeting. 

The other school of thought, however, feels that this is a waste of time and that the agenda should be prioritized, with the most important item coming first. This means jumping right into the most significant issue. Regularly scheduled meetings, such as staff meetings, lend themselves to the “most important first” style.

Many consultants, managers and business owners contend that the traditional agenda model of “old minutes, new business, and adjournment” does not really work anymore. Agenda needs to be more fluid and dynamic, yet still, need to be structured and effective. Adhering to the following tips can help ensure that the meeting agenda can be addressed effectively.

  • State the purpose of the meeting and write it clearly at the top of the agenda. If no clear goal or topic comes to mind, perhaps the meeting is not even necessary. Consider using a memo, email, conference call/zoom, or series of one-on-one meeting topics prior to creating the agenda.
  • Set priorities. Reading the minutes from a past meeting is a colossal waste of time. It is okay to hand out the minutes from the previous meeting, reading them is just not needed. 

If other group members are to play a role at the meeting, call or visit them once the agenda is established so that they clearly understand their role. Assign a time limit to each of the agenda items. Having time limits helps to keep a meeting on track and prevents rambling discussions. Never include the agenda item “Any Other Business.”  It encourages time-wasting at the end of the meeting and also serves as a method for a savvy (or sneaky) meeting participant to exploit the meeting by bringing up an item that is of importance to him or her alone. 

Once an agenda has been established, many consultants recommend the appointment of a meeting facilitator in advance of the meeting itself. It is the facilitator’s job to keep the meeting focused and on schedule. He or she must remain “issue neutral” and encourage the free exchange of ideas without taking sides. The best facilitators are good listeners and communicators who successfully blend assertiveness with tact and discipline with humour set a cooperative tone, and are achievement-oriented.

The facilitator should remain focused and not allow side issues to distract from the agenda. Appointing a separate timekeeper who alerts the facilitator when agreed-upon time limits are approaching is recommended. Some professional meeting planners recommend using co-facilitators; this keeps one facilitator from falling in love with his or her own ideas. For small companies, this idea may not be feasible.  However, if the company does hold a lot of meetings, perhaps several company members can be sent for formal training in meeting facilitation. This will make it easier to appoint co-facilitators.

For small companies, perhaps facilitators are not needed at every meeting. Indeed, small business owners often serve as a facilitator, key information source, and chief strategist all in one. But small businesses have successfully instituted systems in which meeting planning and leadership responsibilities are rotated among staff members.

Bernard Taiwo

I am Management strategist, Editor and Publisher.

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